After 16 years, Sage Steele has left ESPN so that she can exercise her First Amendment rights "more freely," the broadcaster said. The ex-"SportsCenter" host and her former company both confirmed the news on Aug. 15.
"Life update. Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely. I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!" she shared on social media.
In a statement, ESPN said the company and Sage "mutually agreed to part ways," adding, "We thank her for her many contributions over the years."
The announcement comes after Sage settled a lawsuit with the company that she filed in 2022. In that suit, she claimed ESPN violated her First Amendment rights as well as Connecticut free-speech laws when she was suspended over public comments she made about the network's COVID vaccine policy and former President Barack Obama's racial identity.
It all began when Sage was a guest on a September 2021 episode of the "Uncut With Jay Cutler" podcast. She said she'd just been vaccinated against the coronavirus but called ESPN and parent company The Walt Disney Co.'s corporate vaccine mandate "sick" and "scary to me in many ways."
She also shared on the podcast that she felt late TV journalist Barbara Walters had belittled her for identifying as biracial. (Sage's father is Gary Steele, the first Black football player at U.S. Military Academy West Point, and mother is Mona Steele, who is white.)
Sage said that after the founder of "The View" asked her what race she'd choose on the census and she responded, "well, both," Barbara made a comment about Barack choosing Black. "And I'm like, well, congratulations to the president," Sage said on the podcast. "That's his thing. I think that's fascinating considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found but his white mom and grandma raised him. But hey, you do you. I'm going to do me."
In the wake of her podcast comments, ESPN took her off the air for 10 days and pulled her from several big assignments at the network. "At ESPN, we embrace different points of view — dialogue and discussion makes this place great," the company said in a statement. "That said, we expect that those points of view be expressed respectfully, in a manner consistent with our values, and in line with our internal policies."
Sage issued an apology, saying in a statement, "I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize. We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time that impacts all of us, and it's more critical than ever that we communicate constructively and thoughtfully."
In her lawsuit, which was filed in 2022, her lawyers accused ESPN of relying "on the misleading characterizations of her comments" and said her employer "forced her to apologize, allowed media to destroy her, and let media reports that she had been suspended go unchallenged, and allowed Steele's colleagues to defame her in violation of company policy without so much as a reprimand."
The Associated Press reported that in June 2023, court documents showed that ESPN offered to settle Sage's claims for $501,000.00 plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Details on their settlement terms, however, were not made public when Sage and the company announced they'd parted ways in August.